To the Regional HQ for the Council meeting. It is not streamed so you've gotta be there to see the whites of their eyes.
Mary-Frances Turner, President of York Region Rapid Transit Corporation, gets the ball rolling with a presentation on the Annual Report for 2014. Her delivery is relentlessly positive.
We learn that work on the Yonge Street Rapidway will start in June when construction crews will start digging up the road outside the Regional HQ. How deliciously appropriate.
John Taylor wants to know about compensation for businesses ground down by years of contruction work in Davis Drive. She tells him there will be a meeting with Metrolinx on Friday (24 April) to discuss business support and details will be posted on the website.
Now she is telling councillors about the series of “monumental announcements” made by the Province over recent days on transit infrastructure. We hear an update will go the next Committee of the Whole on Thursday 7 May.
Everyone seems happy enough with the way things are going with no discordant voices.
Tony Van Bynen says nothing (again)
Newmarket’s Mayor, Tony Van Bynen, is hunched over his desk, scribbling away. He rarely says much, if anything.
Van Bynen is also a Director of Newmarket Hydro and I learn that a report is coming to councillors on the development of a 20 year Electricity Plan for York Region. With Hydro One dominating the news this will be interesting stuff. On 28 April 2015, the “Integrated Regional Resource Plan” will be published showing how we can keep the lights on. This could become quite the political hot potato.
Now we are on to the controversial report from the Committee of the Whole meeting on 9 April 2015 which saw the recommendations from the Region’s Chief Planner,Val Shuttleworth, on the future of employment land in Markham rejected by councillors on a vote. Straight into the trash can they went.
Regional planners want a blank check
I am now listening to a lively discussion on “High Density Development within Identified Intensification Areas” where the Chief Planner seems to be asking for a blank check. She wants
“Regional staff (to) be authorized to appear before the Ontario Municipal Board in support of the Region’s position, as required, for all development proposals that seek to reduce approved densities within intensification areas.”
Markham Regional Councillor, the splendidly inquisitive Jack Heath, says he is uncomfortable with this. It could be cutting regional councillors out of the discussion for things that will happen in the distant future.
An unusually assertive John Taylor joins in. He doesn’t want regional staff trooping off to the OMB to take a position “in opposition to a lower tier position”. He suggests a compromise. Regional staff could appear at the OMB “when in alignment with the lower tier”. The language is clunky but we all know what he means. He doesn’t want Newmarket to be shafted by York Region at the OMB.
Shuttleworth explains that the Region wouldn’t want to see a reduction in density or “down zoning” in a centre or corridor earmarked for intensification.
Open disagreement (and more of this needed)
There is a real difference of opinion and it is unusual to see it burst out into the open in such a public way.
Jack Heath wants to know if the recommendation, as worded, simply reflects existing practice. If so, he would be reassured and be content with the wording.
Shuttleworth, squirming in her seat, is forced to concede that the wording “is a little bit different”.
Not all development proposals come to the Region. She explains there are other “approval authorities” (meaning the lower tier municipalities) where the Region’s role is to comment. The Region usually leaves delegated approvals alone but there may be instances where it would wish to take a position in support of the Regional Plan and its policies.
Left out of the loop
Taylor counters by insisting that councillors should not pre-approve a course of action, years in advance, giving Regional staff wide-ranging authority to challenge a local solution which, perhaps, may involve some reduction in density. He fears being left out of the loop.
Brenda Hogg, Taylor’s ally from Richmond Hill, wants to know about high density developments, outside the centres and corridors identified for intensification, which are equally a matter of concern. They draw activity away from the very areas earmarked for high growth.
Now things are getting complicated and Shuttleworth is losing her grip on things. It is time to smooth ruffled feathers. We hear that the planners are not going to go to the OMB “guns blazing on every issue”. She says she doesn’t want to open a Pandora’s Box. Hmmmm.
The Chair, Wayne Emmerson, says councillors will be told when the Region goes to the OMB. Shuttleworth adds: “If the Region is offside with our local municipal partners then you will know about it. It would be brought to (Regional) Council.”
And this is how it is left. Some councillors clearly believe that the planners, left to their own devices, would follow their own “city building” agenda even at the expense of the clearly expressed wishes of the lower tier municipalities such as Newmarket.
Markham Employment Lands
Now we return briefly to the thorny issue of the re-designation of employment land. Markham Regional Councillor, Joe Li, who previously had concerns about putting an hotel and theatre/convention centre on employment lands, wants to change the position he took a fortnight ago. He has met the developer and it is now OK.
Taylor asks Shuttleworth if she has any comments. No.
Now the Mayor of Vaughan, Maurizio Bevilacqua, moves an amendment expanding the study area of a proposed mobility hub at the Concord GO Centre. The Secondary Plan envisages a new GO Rail Station. (So does Newmarket’s Secondary Plan though the one at Mulock Drive is a figment of Rick Nethery's imagination.)
Taylor, who admits he knows nothing about the amendment, again presses Shuttleworth for her views. She is well briefed, telling him it expands the study area to both sides of the railway track and envisages a mix of uses, not just employment. He is right to press the planners for answers and to do so without equivocation.
Di Biase has nothing to say
Throughout all these exchanges, Newmarket’s Mayor looks on in a disinterested kind of way while the chair of Planning and Development, the disgraced Michael Di Biase, censured a few days ago by his own City of Vaughan for improperly interfering in the tendering process, stays resolutely silent. Not a word passes his lips throughout the entire meeting. He will be picking up his York Region pay cheque nonetheless.
I look at his face for signs of penitence or contrition but I see nothing.
Meanwhile Wayne Emmerson chairs the meeting with his usual jolly banter.